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DL BASKETBALL WRAP-UP: This Laker team is one to remember

JUNIOR KIRK MCLEOD fights for the ball during the Class 2A state quarterfinals against DeLaSalle. McLeod will be one of two starters back for the 2012-13 season.

It was a long time coming, that's for sure.

The 2011-12 Detroit Lakes boys' basketball team will go down in Laker folklore after ending a 94-year state drought, when they won the Section 8-3A championship.

The Lakers, who finished with a 22-8 record, ultimately lost to eventual state champion DeLaSalle in the first round of the state playoffs, but the ride -- which was long and arduous at times -- in getting to that point was well worth it.

"This season was a culmination of five years of hard work," said DL head coach Robb Flint. "And all that hard work, over time, paid off for these kids. They are athletic and talented, but because they put the time in, they were able to get to where they wanted."

In most cases, when a team surpasses the 20-win mark and wins a section championship, it's due to a senior core, and this was the case for the Lakers as well.

DL's top three scorers were three-year varsity players and all of them made their mark on the Laker program.

Joe Mollberg leaves as the Laker all-time leading scorer with 1,442 points and as the second-leading rebounder in the team's history.

"I think his scoring record will be there awhile," Flint said. "Although Joe is committed to football, he was very dedicated to basketball. He was a great leader on the floor and was good with all his teammates.

"He even missed half the season his sophomore year, so who knows how big his numbers could be?"

Brian Labat is the school's all-time leading rebounder with 579 and led the team in that category the last two seasons, with 210 this year. He is also seventh in all-time scoring with 853 points and ninth in assists with 193.

More importantly, Labat was DL's muscle in the middle, despite being overshadowed by taller players most of the time.

It was his defense on the taller posts players from Alexandria and Fergus Falls that helped the Lakers make it through the section playoffs.

Labat's physical play in the middle was no more evident than against Grand Rapids, where he bottled up the Thunderhawks' 6-8 post.

"He was giving up size most of the time, but he held his own physically," the DL coach said. "That's where his work in the weight room came into play."

Labat and Mollberg were each named All-State Honorable Mentioned and All-State Academic. Mollberg is now a two-time All-State Honorable Mentioned, after he earned the honor in football this past fall.

Both are going to play for the University of North Dakota football team, as well, with Mollberg going in as a quarterback and Labat at linebacker.

Rick Hutchinson leaves as DL's fourth all-time in assists with 251 and 10th in rebounding at 381.

His shooting ability was also key, as he scored 317 points this season and was a 35.33 percent three-point shooter with 53 makes.

"Rick was the heart and soul of the team," Flint said. "He did all the dirty work and rebounded well as a guard. Rick would find the open guy and also hit the clutch shot."

The Lakers had several seniors coming off the bench to provide valuable minutes as well.

Post Kyle Singer made his mark in the section championship game after subbing in for Labat, who drew his fourth foul midway through the second half, to help the Lakers keep Fergus Falls contained.

Other seniors included Jake Hoganson, Tyler Baukol, Aaron Marsh and Luke Morgan.

Flint said the team will definitely miss this senior class, not just because of the loss of their talent, but of their leadership and basketball knowledge.

"We went into every game with different defensive schemes for each one," Flint said. "We had to get creative on the defense and many times, teams didn't know what we were doing.

"Our players picked up things very quickly and that is because they were very basketball savvy."

The Lakers will return experience in the backcourt next year in juniors Kirk McLeod and Derek Long.

The junior duo were both pivotal role players and McLeod's second-half performance in the section championship was a big reason they advanced to state.

Long finished as the team's fifth-leading scorer with 216 points and a 34.09 three-point shooting percentage, while McLeod was fourth with 202 points and shot a solid 45.83 percent from the floor.

"Derek Long was one of best defenders, as was Kirk," Flint said. "When Derek was making his perimeter shots, it really freed up the middle.

"Kirk was a good point guard for us and his offensive game came a long ways. He had good shot selection when he had the opportunities."

Flint said the two will be looked upon more to score than they were this season, so those shots usually reserved for Mollberg, Labat or Hutchinson will be theirs to take.

"We'll be a different team next year, a deeper team," Flint said.

But this year's Laker squad has the entire offseason to reflect on the history they made, something which has already transcended out to the younger future DL players.

"After the state tournament, I have noticed more young kids out shooting in their driveway and playing more basketball around town," Flint said. "Maybe I've never noticed it before, but I do see the younger kids more excited about basketball here now."

Laker stats

The 2011-12 season final stats for the Detroit Lakes boys' basketball team -- Record: 22-8.

Scoring (2-3-ftm-fta-pts) -- Joe Mollberg 127-62-86-120-526; Brian Labat 131-0-89-129-351; Rick Hutchinson 60-53-38-57-317; Kirk McLeod 64-13-35-62-202; Derek Long 44-30-38-49-216; Luke Morgan 23-4-8-16-66; Kyle Singer 23-0-6-13-52; Jake Hoganson 3-7-4-9-31; Jackson Lyngaas 3-1-1-2-10; Ethan VanOffelen 6-0-0-4-12; Tyler Baukol 2-3-2-4-15; Aaron Marsh 6-0-1-2-13; Austin Eiter 3-0-1-2-7; Nick Groth 2-1-3-5-10; Nolan Singer 1-0-0-0-2. TEAM: 498-174-312-474-1830.

Misc. stats (rbd-stl-ast-blk) -- Mollberg 193-31-52-10; Labat 210-51-77-21; Hutchinson 175-47-128-24; McLeod 62-39-75-1; Long 87-16-17-1; Morgan 59-12-25-2; K. Singer 36-6-12-3; Hoganson 12-4-7-0; Lyngaas 3-1-1-1; VanOffelen 7-3-0-5; Baukol 9-2-3-0; Marsh 17-6-1-2; Eiter 2-2-2-0; Groth 6-3-4-0; N. Singer 0-1-0-0. TEAM: 878-224-404-70.

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.